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A report commissioned in mid-1999 by Rep. Curt Weldon (R-PA) looks into possible Chinese front companies in the US seeking technology for the Chinese military. Dr. Eileen Preisser and Michael Maloof are commissioned to make the report. Dr. Preisser, who runs the Information Dominance Center at the US Army’s Land Information Warfare Activity (LIWA) and will later become closely tied to Able Danger, uses LIWA’s data mining capabilities to search unclassified information. According to Maloof, their results show Chinese front companies in the US posing as US corporations that acquire technology from US defense contractors. When the study is completed in November 1999, the General Counsel’s office in the Office of the Defense Secretary orders the study destroyed. Weldon complains about this to Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki, and apparently delays the destruction of the report. Weldon also writes a letter to FBI Director Louis Freeh requesting an espionage investigation into these Chinese links, but Freeh never responds to this. (Maloof 10/9/2005) As part of this report, LIWA analysts had produced a chart of Chinese strategic and business connections in the US. But this data mining effort runs into controversy when the chart apparently shows connections between future National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, former Defense Secretary William Perry, and other prominent US figures, and business deals benefiting the Chinese military. (Lathem 8/27/2005; Gertz 9/22/2005) The China chart was put together by private contractor James D. Smith, who will come forward in August 2005 to corroborate revelations about the Able Danger unit and its findings (see August 22-September 1, 2005). The New York Post later says there is “no suggestion that Rice or any of the others had done anything wrong.” (Lathem 8/27/2005) However, articles first appear one month later and through 2001 in the conservative publications WorldNetDaily and NewsMax, which connect Perry and Rice to Hua Di, a Chinese missile scientist and possible spy, and question the nature of their relationship with him. (Smith 12/21/1999; Smith 4/5/2000; Smith 1/24/2001) Di defected to the US in 1989 and worked most of the 1990s at Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Arms Control, which was co-directed by Perry. Di later returned to China and is subsequently sentenced to ten years in prison for writing influential articles said to reveal vital Chinese state secrets. (Trei 2/7/2001) However, other accounts claim that he was in fact passing on disinformation through these articles, successfully misleading the US military for a couple of years about the abilities of certain Chinese missile programs. (Smith 12/21/1999) Additionally, Hua Di teamed in 1994 with Stanford professor Dr. John Lewis and William Perry to buy an advanced AT&T fiber-optic communications system for “civilian” use inside China that instead is used by the Chinese army. The General Accounting Office later criticized the sale. In 1997, Stanford University investigated Dr. Lewis for his role in it, but Condoleezza Rice, serving as a Stanford provost at the time, apparently stopped the investigation. (Smith 4/5/2000; Smith 1/24/2001) Able Danger and LIWA’s data mining efforts will be severely proscribed in April 2000 as part of the fallout from this China controversy (see April 2000), and the destruction of their collected data will follow shortly thereafter (see May-June 2000).
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith set up a secret intelligence unit, named the Counter Terrorism Evaluation Group (CTEG—sometimes called the Policy Counterterrorism Evaluation Group), to sift through raw intelligence reports and look for evidence of a link between Iraq and al-Qaeda. (Risen 2006, pp. 183-184; Mitchell 5/2006 )
Modeled after "Team B" - The four to five -person unit, a “B Team” commissioned by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and modeled after the “Team B” analysis exercise of 1976 (see November 1976), is designed to study the policy implications of connections between terrorist organizations. CTEG uses powerful computers and software to scan and sort already-analyzed documents and reports from the CIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, and other agencies in an effort to consider possible interpretations and angles of analysis that these agencies may have missed due to deeply ingrained biases. Middle East specialist Harold Rhode recruits David Wurmser to head the project. Wurmser, the director of Middle East studies for the American Enterprise Institute, is a known advocate of regime change in Iraq, having expressed his views in a 1997 op-ed piece published in the Wall Street Journal (see November 12, 1997) and having participated in the drafting of the 1996 policy paper for Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm (see July 8, 1996). F. Michael Maloof, a former aide to Richard Perle, is also invited to take part in the effort, which becomes known internally as the “Wurmser-Maloof” project. Neither Wurmser nor Maloof are intelligence professionals (Scarborough 1/14/2002; Schmitt and Shanker 10/24/2002; Dreyfuss and Vest 1/2004; Arkin 2/8/2004; Reuters 2/19/2004; Mitchell 5/2006 ) , but both are close friends of Feith’s.
Countering the CIA - Since the days of Team B, neoconservatives have insisted the CIA has done nothing but underestimate and downplay the threats facing the US. “They have a record over 30 years of being wrong,” says Defense Policy Board member Richard Perle, who adds that the CIA refuses to even allow for the possibility of a connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda—one of the topics that most interests Wurmser and Maloof. (Unger 2007, pp. 226-227)
Finding Facts to Fit Premises - Maloof and Wurmser set up shop in a small room on the third floor of the Pentagon, where they set about developing a “matrix” that charts connections between terrorist organizations and their support infrastructures, including support systems within nations themselves. Both men have security clearances, so they are able to draw data from both raw and finished intelligence products available through the Pentagon’s classified computer system. More highly classified intelligence is secured by Maloof from his previous office. He will later recall, “We scoured what we could get up to the secret level, but we kept getting blocked when we tried to get more sensitive materials. I would go back to my office, do a pull and bring it in.… We discovered tons of raw intelligence. We were stunned that we couldn’t find any mention of it in the CIA’s finished reports.” Each week, Wurmser and Maloof report their findings to Stephen Cambone, a fellow member of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC—see January 26, 1998) neoconservative and Feith’s chief aide. George Packer will later describe their process, writing, “Wurmser and Maloof were working deductively, not inductively: The premise was true; facts would be found to confirm it.” CTEG’s activities cause tension within the intelligence community. Critics claim that its members manipulate and distort intelligence, “cherry-picking” bits of information that support their preconceived conclusions. Although the State Department’s own intelligence outfit, the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), is supposed to have access to all intelligence materials circulating through the government, INR chief Greg Thielmann later says, “I didn’t know about its [CTEG’s] existence. They were cherry-picking intelligence and packaging it for [Vice President] Cheney and [Defense Secretary] Donald Rumsfeld to take to the president. That’s the kind of rogue operation that peer review is intended to prevent.” A defense official later adds, “There is a complete breakdown in the relationship between the Defense Department and the intelligence community, to include its own Defense Intelligence Agency. Wolfowitz and company disbelieve any analysis that doesn’t support their own preconceived conclusions. The CIA is enemy territory, as far are they’re concerned.” Wurmser and Maloof’s “matrix” leads them to conclude that Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, and other groups with conflicting ideologies and objectives are allowing these differences to fall to the wayside as they discover their shared hatred of the US. The group’s research also leads them to believe that al-Qaeda has a presence in such places as Latin American. For weeks, the unit will attempt to uncover evidence tying Saddam Hussein to the 9/11 attacks, a theory advocated by both Feith and Wolfowitz. (Scarborough 1/14/2002; Schmitt and Shanker 10/24/2002; Dreyfuss and Vest 1/2004; Arkin 2/8/2004; Mitchell 5/2006 ; Unger 2007, pp. 226-227)
Denial - Defending the project, Paul Wolfowitz will tell the New York Times that the team’s purpose is to circumvent the problem “in intelligence work, that people who are pursuing a certain hypothesis will see certain facts that others won’t, and not see other facts that others will.” He insists that the special Pentagon unit is “not making independent intelligence assessments.” (Schmitt and Shanker 10/24/2002) The rest of the US intelligence community is not impressed with CTEG’s work. “I don’t have any problem with [the Pentagon] bringing in a couple of people to take another look at the intelligence and challenge the assessment,” former DIA analyst Patrick Lang will later say. “But the problem is that they brought in people who were not intelligence professionals, people were brought in because they thought like them. They knew what answers they were going to get.” (Unger 2007, pp. 226-227)
Dismissing CIA's Findings that Iraq, al-Qaeda are Not Linked - One example is an early CTEG critique of a CIA report, Iraq and al-Qaeda: Interpreting a Murky Relationship. CTEG notes that the CIA included data indicating links between Iraq and al-Qaeda, and then blast the agency for “attempt[ing] to discredit, dismiss, or downgrade much of this reporting, resulting in inconsistent conclusions in many instances.” In CTEG’s view, policy makers should overlook any equivocations and discrepancies and dismiss the CIA’s guarded conclusions: “[T]he CIA report ought to be read for content only—and CIA’s interpretation ought to be ignored.” Their decision is powered by Wolfowitz, who has instructed them to ignore the intelligence community’s view that al-Qaeda and Iraq were doubtful allies. They also embrace the theory that 9/11 hijacker Mohammad Atta met with an Iraqi official in Prague, a theory discredited by intelligence professionals (see December 2001 and Late July 2002). Author Gordon R. Mitchell refers to the original Team B in calling the critique “1976 redux, with the same players deploying competitive intelligence analysis to sweep away policy obstacles presented by inconvenient CIA threat assessments.” In 1976, the Team B members were outsiders; now they are, Mitchell will write, “firmly entrenched in the corridors of power. Control over the levers of White House bureaucracy enabled Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz to embed a Team B entity within the administration itself. The stage was set for a new kind of Team B intelligence exercise—a stealth coup staged by one arm of the government against the other.” (Mitchell 5/2006 ; Agence France-Presse 2/9/2007)
Stovepiping Information Directly to White House - The group is later accused of stovepiping intelligence directly to the White House. Lang later tells the Washington Times: “That unit had meetings with senior White House officials without the CIA or the Senate being aware of them. That is not legal. There has to be oversight.” According to Lang and another US intelligence official, the two men go to the White House several times to brief officials, bypassing CIA analysts whose analyses they disagreed with. They allegedly brief White House staffers Stephen Hadley, the deputy national security adviser, and Lewis “Scooter” Libby, chief of staff for Vice President Richard Cheney, according to congressional staffers. (Sale 7/29/2004) In October 2004, Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) will conclude, “[T]he differences between the judgments of the IC [intelligence community] and the DOD [Department of Defense] policy office [CTEG] might have been addressed by a discussion between the IC and DOD of underlying assumptions and the credibility and reliability of sources of raw intelligence reports. However, the IC never had the opportunity to defend its analysis, nor point out problems with DOD’s ‘alternative’ view of the Iraq-al-Qaeda relationship when it was presented to the policymakers at the White House.” Levin will add, “Unbeknownst to the IC, policymakers were getting information that was inconsistent with, and thus undermined, the professional judgments of the IC experts. The changes included information that was dubious, misrepresented, or of unknown import.” (Mitchell 5/2006 )
Passing Intelligence to INC - According to unnamed Pentagon and US intelligence officials, the group is also accused of providing sensitive CIA and Pentagon intercepts to the US-funded Iraqi National Congress, which then pass them on to the government of Iran. (Sale 7/29/2004) “I knew Chalabi from years earlier,” Maloof later recalls, “so I basically asked for help in giving us direction as to where to look for information in our own system in order to be able to get a clear picture of what we were doing. [Chalabi and his Iraqi National Congress] were quite helpful.” (Unger 2007, pp. 226-227)
CTEG Evolves into OSP - By August 2002, CTEG will be absorbed into a much more expansive “alternative intelligence” group, the Office of Special Plans (OSP—see September 2002). Wurmser will later be relocated to the State Department where he will be the senior adviser to Undersecretary Of State for Arms Control John Bolton.(see September 2002). (Kwiatkowski 12/1/2003; Dreyfuss and Vest 1/2004; Mitchell 5/2006 )
Public Finally Learns of CTEG's Existence - Over a year after its formation, Rumsfeld will announce its existence, but only after the media reveals the existence of the OSP (see October 24, 2002).
Douglas Feith suggests in a draft memo (Feith 8/7/2004) that the US should consider “hitting terrorists outside the Middle East in the initial offensive, perhaps deliberately selecting a non-al-Qaeda target like Iraq.” Other regions he proposes attacking include South America and Southeast Asia. He reasons that an initial attack against such targets would “surprise… the terrorists” and catch them off guard. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 277, 533; Hosenball and Isikoff 8/8/2004) According to Newsweek, the content of Feith’s memo derives from the work of the Counter Terrorism Evaluation Group (see Shortly After September 11, 2001), a project headed by Michael Maloof and David Wurmser. The group suggested that an attack on the remote Triborder region, where Paraguay, Argentina, and Brazil meet and where Iranian-backed Hezbollah is said to have a presence, would have a ripple effect among international Islamic militant groups. (Hosenball and Isikoff 8/8/2004) Feith later says his memo merely expands upon ideas put forth by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in a memo (see September 19, 2001) the secretary wrote the day before to Gen. Henry Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. (Feith 8/7/2004) The logic behind proposing strikes against targets outside of the Middle East, Feith says, was based on the need to “cast a wide net” and achieve “additional objectives,” such as creating fissures in the enemy network, highlighting “the global nature of the conflicts,” showing “seriousness of US military purpose,” and demonstrating that the “war would not be limited geographically to Afghanistan.” (Feith 8/7/2004)
Naval reservist and Penn-State political-science professor Chris Carney and DIA analyst Tina Shelton take over the Counter Terrorism Evaluation Group (see Shortly After September 11, 2001) after Michael Maloof loses his security clearances and David Wurmser moves to the State Department to work for John Bolton, the undersecretary of state for arms control. (Burrough et al. 5/2004, pp. 238; Isikoff and Corn 2006, pp. 111)
In February, Hassan al-Obeidi, chief of foreign operations of the Iraqi Intelligence Service, pays a visit to Imad Hage, a Lebanese-American businessman living in Beruit who has contacts in the Pentagon. Obeidi requests his help in relaying a backchannel offer to Washington in an attempt to avert war. Hage later tells the New York Times that Obeidi told him: “If this is about oil, we will talk about US oil concessions. If it is about the peace process, then we can talk. If this is about weapons of mass destruction, let the Americans send over their people. There are no weapons of mass destruction. Americans could send 2,000 FBI agents to look wherever they wanted,” At one point, Obeidi says that Iraq would even agree to hold elections within the next two years. Hage relays everything to Pentagon staffer Michael Maloof in Washington. (Risen 11/6/2003) Hage then travels to Baghdad and meets with Iraq’s chief of intelligence Tahir Jalil Habbush Al-Tikriti. Hage later recalls: “[The Iraqis] would be willing to allow between 1,000 to 2,000 US agents, FBI and/or scientists, into Iraq to verify, according to them, the absence of weapons of mass destruction or that they no longer had weapons of mass destruction. The second point, they offered to turn over Abdul Rahman Yasin, [under indictment in] the World Trade Center bombing in 1993. And on the third issue, they offered to hold free and fair elections in Iraq within a year or two. They kept on asking why they were targeted or they would be targeted, that they didn’t wish confrontation with the United States. If it was about oil, they’d be willing to make concessions on oil.” (Risen 11/6/2003; CNN 11/7/2003) On February 19, Hage faxes a three-page report to Maloof listing five concessions the Iraqis were willing to make: cooperation in the war on terrorism, “full support for any US plan” in the Arab-Israeli peace process, giving “the US… first priority as it relates to Iraq oil, mining rights,” support for United States strategic interests in the region, and “direct US involvement on the ground in disarming Iraq.” Details of the Iraqi offer are sent to several top Pentagon officials. (Risen 11/6/2003) In early March, Hage and Richard Perle meet in London. Hage informs him that the Iraqis would like to arrange a secret meeting with him to discuss their offer. According to Perle, he then contacts the CIA seeking permission to meet with the Iraqis. But according to Perle, the CIA isn’t interested. “The message was, ‘Tell them that we will see them in Baghdad.’” The agency also tells Perle that they had already pursued other backchannel leads with the Iraqi regime. According to one senior US intelligence official, the other leads “came via a broad range of foreign intelligence services, other governments, third parties, charlatans, and independent actors. Every lead that was at all plausible, and some that weren’t, were followed up.” (Risen 11/6/2003; Risen 2006, pp. 183-184) In spite of the CIA’s refusal to engage in talks with the Iraqis, Hage continues to forward offers by the Iraqis to Maloof. The US ignores them. (Risen 11/6/2003)
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